Movie Review: Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur” a must-see movie about a young dino overcoming his fears
It’s unfortunate that Pixar (or, more accurately, their corporate overlords at Disney) decided to release “The Good Dinosaur” so closely to “Inside Out” – one of the most critically acclaimed films in the company’s recent catalogue.
“The Good Dinosaur” can’t help but suffer by comparison. Lacking the melancholic tone and emotional complexities found in “Inside Out,” “The Good Dinosaur” is a more simplistic and straightforward film. It would be easy to dismiss “The Good Dinosaur” as nothing more than a pleasant diversion or a Pixar also-ran. But don’t be fooled. “The Good Dinosaur” may be a simpler movie, but that doesn’t make it worse, it just makes it different. Its ostensibly basic elements hide an artfulness and, more importantly, a casual weirdness unheard of in Pixar’s history. In essence, “The Good Dinosaur” is a film adaptation of Gary Larson’s “The Far Side” as filtered through the lyrical beauty of Werner Herzog’s “Aguirre, The Wrath of God” with occasional John Ford flourishes. Yes, it’s that odd.
“The Good Dinosaur” takes place in an alternate universe in which the asteroid — that struck the earth and killed all of the dinosaurs — harmlessly passed the world by leaving the dinosaurs to evolve and create a quaint agrarian society. To Pixar’s credit, this high concept is relayed through subtle means without an opening crawl or the voice of Morgan Freeman over-explaining the obvious. It’s just a shot of a confused dinosaur watching an asteroid pass above its head. It’s elegant in its execution and confidence.
No matter how young or stupid you may be, Pixar isn’t worried. Babies and dumb-dumbs will get it. “The Good Dinosaur” revolves around a young dinosaur named Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) who, as the runt of his family, finds himself running scared from almost everything. Including the admittedly eerie chickens he can barely manage to feed everyday on his family’s farm. In order to cure Arlo of his crippling anxieties, his father (Jeffrey Wright, who, coincidentally appears in “Mockingjay: Part 2”) puts him in charge of finding and killing whatever it is that’s been stealing corn from their silo.
The culprit turns out to be a small, feral, Kaspar Hauser-like child whom Arlo accidentally allows to escape. In the ensuing chase, Arlo’s father accidentally drowns in a flash flood as Arlo and his oblivious human adversary (later dubbed Spot by the neurotic dino) find themselves stranded in the woods. With only each other to rely on, Arlo and Spot forge an uneasy alliance to safely make their way back home.
Pixar isn’t breaking new ground with the messages and themes within “The Good Dinosaur.” Every children’s movie since the beginning of time has espoused the virtues of believing in yourself and conquering your fears. Fortunately, “The Good Dinosaur” is less concerned with presenting a moral than it is in being an off-kilter mood piece. Unlike most animated movies, “The Good Dinosaur” is paced a little bit slower as the film takes its time to show off the beautifully animated woodland settings or just to present how a dinosaur might plow down a cornfield. On paper, this sounds dull but in execution it’s weirdly compelling. Equally weird and compelling are the supporting characters that include a cross-eyed mentally-ill triceratops (voiced by “Good Dinosaur’s” director Peter Sohn) hoarding woodland creatures for “protection” and a cult of storm worshipping pterodactyl’s who provide some of the film’s darkest moments.
Speaking of which, “The Good Dinosaur” has its fair share of dark moments (cute things are eaten or murdered at a pretty consistent clip) as well as some fairly bold ones (Arlo and Spot get high on, what appears to be, bad plums and hallucinate). It’s such a jangly, unique experience that its cult status is practically a foregone conclusion at this point. After all, how could a movie in which a cattle ranching T-Rex, voiced by Sam Elliott, battles a cattle rustling raptor, voiced by John Ratzenberger, develop into anything less than a cult favorite?
Get a good seat on the bandwagon while “The Good Dinosaur” is still being ignored.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
“The Good Dinosaur”
Starring: Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright
Director: Peter Sohn
Weekender Rating: WWWWV